MLB Teams Set Up to Be the Biggest Losers of the 2017-18 Offseason
Every MLB team enters the offseason with a worst-case scenario. With all the top free agents and trade targets still on the board, every team can technically avoid that fate.
Some clubs, however, are primed to be offseason losers for a variety of reasons: a payroll crunch, ownership uncertainty, a potential glaring weakness that isn't likely to be addressed, or being stuck between a retool and a rebuild.
Let's take a look at five clubs who fit one or more of those undesirable descriptions, with the caveat that no one's an offseason loser till Opening Day at the soonest.
They could be a loser if...their bullpen is gutted.
The Colorado Rockies bullpen morphed from a weakness to a strength in 2017, lowering its ERA from 5.13 in 2016 to 4.40. Adjusting for the Coors Field effect, that's especially impressive.
Three key members of that 'pen are free agents: closer Greg Holland (61 G, 3.61 ERA, 41 SV), left-hander Jake McGee (62 G, 3.61 ERA, 20 HLD) and right-hander Pat Neshek (71 G, 23 HLD, 1.59 ERA).
In addition to that trio, there are solid relief options on the market, including Wade Davis, Addison Reed, Brandon Morrow and Bryan Shaw.
Unfortunately for the Rockies, Denver isn't an ideal destination for pitchers.
Last winter, they signed Holland on a one-year "show me" contract after he underwent Tommy John surgery and missed the entire 2016 campaign. They acquired Neshek at the trade deadline from the Philadelphia Phillies. McGee came over in a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays.
On a related note, the Rockies lost free-agent starter Tyler Chatwood on Thursday, when the sinkerballer signed a three-year, $38 million pact with the Chicago Cubs, per Sahadev Sharma of The Athletic. Colorado still has the top of its rotation intact, however, led by right-hander Jon Gray.
It's possible Colorado could lure a top reliever (or starter, for that matter) to the Mile High City, but it would probably require overpaying. More likely, Colorado will go bargain shopping and hope for another Holland-esque diamond in the rough.
That's a serious roll of the dice, especially with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks situated at the top of the National League West and the San Francisco Giants in hot pursuit of both Giancarlo Stanton and two-way Japanese star Shohei Ohtani.
New York Mets
They could a loser if...they don't fortify the starting rotation.
The New York Mets starting rotation was beset by injuries in 2017.
Presumed ace Noah Syndergaard made just seven starts while battling biceps and lat issues. Zack Wheeler was limited by arm troubles. Steven Matz underwent elbow surgery in August. Matt Harvey and his balky shoulder posted a 6.70 ERA in 92.2 innings.
Other than Jacob deGrom (3.53 ERA, 201.1 IP, 239 SO), the entirety of New York's once-vaunted pitching core was an abject disaster.
A bounce-back is possible. Syndergaard (age 25), Matz (26) and Wheeler (27) are all young enough to return to form and stay healthy. Even Harvey—who is 28 and was a superlative pitcher as recently as 2015—isn't a total lost cause.
Counting on this group is a huge gamble, however—and one the Mets are apparently prepared to take.
After missing out on the Ohtani sweepstakes along with the rest of the East Coast contingent, New York is unlikely to pursue starting pitching this winter, per Anthony DiComo of MLB.com.
Instead, DiComo noted, the Mets will target bullpen arms. That's another area of need, to be sure, but simply signing a reliever or two and hoping for improvement in the snakebitten rotation fits the classic definition of insanity—i.e. doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
They could be a loser if...they don't initiate a rebuild.
The Pittsburgh Pirates finished a distant fourth in the NL Central in 2017 and sit on the precipice of a rebuild.
Andrew McCutchen, whose name churned through the rumor mill last offseason, is entering his contract year. Other veterans, including right-hander Gerrit Cole and jack-of-all-trades Josh Harrison, could net solid prospect packages.
It'd be painful for the Pittsburgh faithful. It looks like the Bucs' best course, though, with the Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals all better positioned to contend within the division.
So far, other than a few rumblings about the Giants kicking the tires on McCutchen, there's little indication the Pirates intend to be sellers.
As MLB.com's Adam Berry correctly asked, "The Pirates don't believe their 'window' has closed, but what can they do to keep it open?"
The answer is probably making a few ancillary moves that fit their low-budget limitations and hoping for a bounce-back from key contributors such as outfielder Starling Marte, who missed 80 games last season to a performance-enhancing drugs suspension.
In a best-case scenario, that strategy could return Pittsburgh to the wild-card mix. Even then, it would represent a long-term step backward.
Toronto Blue Jays
They could be a loser if...questions about the sale of the team leave them stuck in neutral.
After finishing 10 games under .500 and 17 games off the pace in the American League East, the Toronto Blue Jays are another club caught between rebuilding and retooling.
There's enough talent on the roster—led by third baseman Josh Donaldson—to get the Jays back to relevance, provided they fill multiple holes.
"We know we need to complement our infield further, our outfield further, our pitching further," said general manager Ross Atkins, per SportsNet's Shi Davidi. "Potentially even complement our catching situation in some way."
For those keeping score at home that means Toronto wants to improve...basically everywhere.
On the other hand, the Blue Jays could shop Donaldson, who is entering a contract year, and other key players to restock the farm. With the Boston Red Sox and burgeoning New York Yankees positioned as the class of the division, that might be prudent.
Now for the big wrinkle: The Jays may be sold in the near future.
The idea that Rogers Communications Inc. could put the franchise on the market "is quite clearly getting very serious senior-level consideration," per Davidi.
That doesn't mean Atkins and Co. can't sign free agents and/or swing trades. But it adds a complicated backdrop to any moves the Jays make and further obscures an already cloudy picture north of the border.
Kansas City Royals
They could be a loser if...they wave goodbye to their championship core and start the rebuild too late.
In July, the Kansas City Royals faced a tough decision. They were hanging around the edge of the AL wild-card race. They were less than two years removed from winning the World Series.
They also had a trove of impending free agents, including center fielder Lorenzo Cain, first baseman Eric Hosmer and third baseman Mike Moustakas, all of whom were enjoying solid-to-excellent seasons.
Hindsight is 20/20, but we can say unequivocally the Royals should have fielded offers on their contract-year veterans and started a rebuild.
Instead, K.C. kept its chips and missed the postseason.
If Cain, Hosmer and Moustakas sign elsewhere, the Royals will get draft-pick compensation since all three received a qualifying offer. But the Royals surely would have gotten more if they'd traded the trio last summer.
On Wednesday, Kansas City inked a couple of intriguing former Atlanta Braves prospects who were declared free agents in the wake of Atlanta's international-signing scandal: outfielder Juan Carlos Negret (via MLB.com's Jesse Sanchez) and right-hander Yefri del Rosario (also via Sanchez).
They've also got tradable pieces remaining on the roster, including reliever Kelvin Herrera. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported the club is initiating a "substantial rebuild across the next two or three seasons."
That said, it's difficult to spin this as anything other than a loss for the Royals, who are about to watch their championship core skip town with an extra dose of gut-wrenching regret.
All statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference unless otherwise noted.